Memorable Matches – FC Barcelona 3-1 Manchester United

After the international break becoming baron when discussing relevent football, let’s talk about matches from the past. Games that will never be forgotten in the minds of the fans who watched. Let’s start with a game that I even remember watching at a younger age. The second encounter in two years between Sir Alex’s United, and Pep’s treble winning Barcelona. Both sides previously played each other in the 2009 champions league final, also remembered as Ronaldo’s final game for the club. The game was quite close, but incredible games from both Xavi and Messi put Barcelona over the line. This game was the rematch, which would hopefully see Fergie finally land the victory over Pep. But we all know that is not what happened. So let’s get into it.

United’s great first 10 minutes

Let’s start with by far United’s best moment. Ferguson’s plan was to use both Park and Valencia to deal with the full backs and midfielders. Park would drop deep to stop Alves from making any as advancing runs. Valencia and Park are both incredibly good at tracking back and helping their full backs. It was a classic Ferguson move. He always liked to play players, like Park, in these big games to help nullify the opponent. United played a classic 4-4-2, with Giggs and Carrick in midfield. Their other approach to deal with their midfield disadvantage was to bring one of the wingers inside depending on which side Barcelona were playing. For example, if the ball was on the side of Pedro and Abidal, Valencia would put pressure on them, while Park would come into midfield to limit the effect of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets. Both Rooney and Hernandez had very important roles. Rooney had to keep on Busquets. The defensive midfielder is so important in how Barcelona build up play. He is one is able to receive the ball and pick out a further advanced player, to help with possession. Rooney at times helped with this (we’ll get to why it didn’t work later) and Hernandez kept pressure on the back two of Pique and Mascherano. This worked so well for the first 10-15 minutes, but we will now get to why this didn’t exactly work.

A Xavi Masterclass

I constantly love to compliment midfielders. Whether it has been my constant defense of Paul Pogba, my praise for Luka Modric, my love for Vidal’s all round excellence, or the many memories I have of Paul Scholes. Xavi is better than all of the above. I fondly remember watching him, and his Barcelona teammates majestically move around the pitch and win 3 international trophies back to back. I do not think there will ever be a better player than Xavi in the middle of the park. His incredible ability at transitioning play, finding space and retaining possession will never be beaten. He was at his mesmerising best in this game. When Busquets was having a limited effect in the first half, Xavi would drop incredibly deep to receive the ball. He would usually then recycle the ball back to the centre halves, until there was space available to advance play. When Xavi dropped this deep, it left Rooney and Hernandez with a difficult decision, either stick with their role, and leave Xavi to retain possession, or try and deal with Xavi, but not full commit to the game plan. It left United chasing the game, because they failed to deal with the change that one player made. Xavi is the one who won the game for Barcelona. His dismantling of United’s plan is the reason why they cruised the game. He was recieving the ball all over the field, and he was just so good at helping Barcelona get the ball in dangerous areas. It was easily one of the best midfield performances you will ever see.

Messi at his best

If Xavi was the captain of the destruction of United’s approach, Messi was the first mate. Messi as a player as evolved dramatically since his long haired teenaged days at the Camp Nou. He began as a right winger, using his pace and dribbling ability to assist Eto’o and Ronaldinho in their dazzling displays in the final third. However Pep saw something else in him, being his ability at finding space. Messi under Pep was easily one of the hardest players to deal with when defending. If the centre backs chose to track him, it would leave space wide open in the back for one of Villa or Pedro to exploit. But if a midfielder chose to track him, it would leave the midfield disjointed. United had this similar problem. It seemed Carrick was the one with the responsibility to deal with Messi. Like the rest of the side, it was fine for the first 10 minutes. Messi didn’t have much of an involvement near the start of the game. But then the Argentine just dropped deeper and deeper, until Carrick couldn’t follow. That was the point where Messi was at his most deadliest. While many will call Messi an excellent dribbler and goal scorer. His best attribute will always be his ability to find space to receive the ball, which would bring the rest of the team into play. There is a reason why Pep told Messi to never receive the ball in the 18 yard box, because he knew exactly how good of a false nine Messi was. Throughout the game you would see Messi drop near enough in his own half, receive the ball, and just run at United. It worked so often and he was untouchable throughout the game. What helped massively was United’s inability to keep up with Barcelona. Their tireless running, aggression and high energy game was really taking its effect as the game went on, by the hour mark, United had zero legs to stand. Barcelona had that much control of the game, that United would never be able to get back into it. Messi and Barcelona were excellent in just waiting for this moment, and really made them suffer.

To conclude, this game was a huge turning point. It was the first time Sir Alex would look at a game and even admit that there was nothing he could do. While their first encounter in Rome was closer in pure ability of the players on the pitch, the rematch was not. United didn’t have the furocious front line of Tevez, Ronaldo and Rooney anymore. Fergie’s magic still brought the best of the aging and average talent throughout the squad, but there was a limit to this. Pep’s team and squad was of such a high standard that any line up Fergie put out on the day, would not have won the game. It was the first time I ever saw Sir Alex get completely outclassed on a tactical level.

It was a high point for his opponent however. This victory ensured that this team of players would go down as one of the best teams to ever play the game (and the best in my opinion). Every player in that team was at their peak, and worked so well together to produce a team that few were ever able to beat. It’s still the team that Pep is trying to equal in achievement and style. A game where the old was beaten by the new, in such a dominant display, and that is why this is a memorable match.

La Liga is Wide Open! Top 5 Talking Points from the Top 5 Leagues 25/09/18

I thought I would wait until some of the mid week games were finished before discussing this week’s football, and I’m glad I did. Let’s get straight to the point and talk about the biggest talking points from the week.

Bundesliga – Leverkusen back on track. Bayern finally drop points

It’s no secret that both Leverkusen and Schalke started the new season in terrible both, with both sitting in the relegation zone last week, and while Schalke remain in their rot, Leverkusen are on the way up. Leverkusen have a very good side, with Leon Bailey getting plenty of plaudits and Havertz looking like a real prospect. They have won their last two games, beating both Mainz and Dusseldorf. Their win against Mainz was close, they were quite lucky to come out of their most recent win over Dusseldorf with the victory. Expected goals had the game in the home sides favourite, with it in favour of Dusseldorf. But with their drop at the moment, getting the wins is what matters. They need to get back in the groove of winning. In their last win, it was Kevin Volland who helped the side win. The German scored two to put them over the line. While his goals got the win, it was the performance of their defensive midfielder, Dominik Kohr that deserves the most credit. He won 11 tackles and interceptions, made 2 key passes and got an assist. It was a very gritty performance from Leverkusen and might be a deserved win, but they showed their quality on the day.

Bayern have had a very mixed week. They beat rivals Schalke after a James Rodriguez winner. But they followed that by drawing 1-1 with Augsburg. The game, from a performance level, was very close, with expected goals putting the game at 1.43 to Bayern and 1.33 to the away side. But just watching the game it was clear Bayern should have put that game to bed. Renato Sanches had so many chances to end any chance Augsburg had if only he put it away. The midfielder had 5 shots and only 2 on target. Bayern drew the game because of their lack of precision and a mistake from their captain. Neuer came out to catch the corner ball, but failed and the ball was then gifted to Felix Gotze, who then was gifted the easiest chance of his career. Bayern did rest players in this game, with Alaba, Ribery, Rodriguez and Lewandowski all not starting the game. Kovac thought he could take it easy for the home game but will wish his side was more ruthless on the day. After Borussia Dortmund’s 7-0 beating of Nuernburg. The pressure is on now to keep an in form Dortmund side from catching up.

La Liga – Barca and Real lose!

By far the most interesting story of the week. Both Barcelona and Real Madrid have lost a game on the same day for the first time since 2015. Both did not go into their defeats in good form, with Real scraping a 1-0 win and Barcelona drawing 2-2 with Girona at home. Let’s start with Barcelona. The league leaders started the game comfortably, with Coutinho scoring an excellent volley to put them into the lead, but 69 seconds of terrible defending left Barcelona getting their first defeat of the season. The reason for that complete failure in defense falls onto Gerard Pique. He was at fault for both goals. For the first, he was in no man’s land, and left Umtiti on his own to deal with both players. While Vermalean also failed to keep up with El Zhar, Pique should be better there. The second goal was a pure error, giving the ball to Oscar Rodriguez and gifting him the goal. Pique is a very good defender who doesn’t get the credit he deserves sometimes, but he has these games where he just loses his ability to read the game. Barcelona can call themselves lucky though. Their rivals Real Madrid also lost so their defeat is not as bad as it could be. They have Bilbao at home next, which is a must win. Both Madrid clubs play on Saturday and if Barca can an advantage over one of them, it’ll make the title race much easier.

Madrid finally showed the vulnerability that I knew they had, when they lost 3-0 to an entertaining Sevilla side. Madrid were simply caught out 3 times in the game, and it resulted in them conceding 3. They just gave the ball away and were correctly punished for it. Marcelo miss placed a pass in his own half and let the Sevilla forwards hit them back. The issue with Madrid is they struggle to deal with counter attacks. While Ramos and Varane are the best around, they play quite a highline and it leaves them easy to get by when attacked with numbers. Kroos is very poor in a defensive sense (as I mentioned when talking about why Germany failed at the world cup). Modric is still not up to scratch yet, after his phenomenal world cup performance. He is usually so good at watching the space Kroos and Marcelo can leave, and can help deal with it. Sevilla were just the perfect team to beat them, and it’s worrying to see if they draw a team like Liverpool in the champions League, because they could struggle against their pace and quick attacks. A poor day at the office for Madrid, and with their local rivals being the next side they play, they must bounce back and keep pressure on Barca.

Ligue 1 – PSG dominating. Lyon Vs Marseille

While Ligue 1 is looking like it’s usual on horse race, Paris have just became the fourth side to win their first 7 games in the league’s history. They have been efficient as ever in the league, putting teams away like they are from another planet. While I do think there are huge holes in side, mainly the full backs and in defensive midfield, they just have so much talent in the final third that it makes it impossible for them not to score. One players return has been an absolute blessing for Tuchel’s side. He keeps thinks ticking in midfield and his presence means that Neymar, Mbappe and Cavani do not have to drop so deep to receive the ball. His different could easily be seen with their 4-1 win over Reims. He had 138 touches of the ball, the most on the pitch. He also made 125 passes. He was the only player to complete over 100 passes on the pitch. He is so important for Paris will be needed in the big Champions League games. Other than that, it was a usual Paris win. Let’s hope they show more of this in the Champions League, after their poor showing against Liverpool.

On another note, Marseille were beaten by Lyon by 4 goals to 2. Both Payet and Thauvin were effective in the game as ever, but their problem was Mitroglou. The Greek International has never proven to meet that he should be playing at the top level. He seriously lacks agility and works better when paired (as seen with Jonas at Benfica). He only managed a single shot in the game, and it wasn’t even on target. Both Germain and Mitroglou are good squad players, but they both have failed to convince me that they are good enough to lead a line. Lyon were very good in this game. Both Fekir and Ndombele were excellent in the game, completing a combined 9 key passes between them, with Ndombele getting 2 assists. They were key in exposing Marseille and countering them quickly. But the star man of this game was easily Bertrand Traore. The former Chelsea man has been an important addition to the current crop of talent at Lyon. His pace and ability to beat a man is always good when facing any side. In this game he was absolutely excellent. He gave Amavi constant problems and caught him out over and over, which resulted in one of the midfielders or centre backs having to spilt wide, leaving space for Depay and Fekir. This was shown from Lyon’s attack side map, showing that they made 48% of their attacks on the right side, where Traore was playing. He had an excellent game and capped it off with 2 goals. Just a perfect perfect performance. Both teams shouldn’t have much to worry about, with Lyon now showing some consistency, and Marseille have won three of their games so far, with Payet and Thauvin looking great at the start of the season. With Monaco being awful, it means top 3 could be comfortable for both of them.

Premier League – Manchester City’s 5 goal thriller. United drop points again.

Let’s focus on Manchester this week, where one side showed their quality, and the other showed their lack of it. Let’s start with the blue side, who absolutely walked over newly promoted side Cardiff with a 5-0 win. This is the second time they have scored over 5 in a game so far this season. It keeps them in touching distance of Liverpool, and on equal terms with Chelsea, after their disappointing 0-0 draw with West Ham. City were at their usual best in this game. City were excellent at creating good chances, with 86% of their shots coming inside of the 18 yard box. Their quality was shown in this game. When talking about stand out performers, one has to simply discuss Bernardo Silva. While the Portuguese did have his moments in the first team last season, he was never a consistent choice. However with the injury to Kevin De Bruyne, it has forced Silva to be put in his number 8 position. Pep is a genius for a reason, because he is able to fill the gap with the adequate solution. Silva was excellent in this game, getting a goal and an assist. He made 4 key passes, and even completed 3 tackles, a side of his game I thought he never had. City cruised this game, and it will keep them in the race against a Liverpool side who many tip to beat the Champions.

On the other side of Manchester, the red devils dropped more points at home, with a 1-1 draw against a good Wolves side. It was a very poor performance from United in an attacking sense. They failed (as usual) to create good chances for Lukaku, and were forced to take shots from anywhere, with 67% of their shots being taken from outside of the box. United had more shots, but had less shots on target (United having 6 and Wolves having 8). Expected goals shows this too, with United only having 0.61, and Wolves having 1.10. United had a majority of the ball, yet didn’t show that killer instinct their rivals show. While United did fail to create the right chances, Lukaku was still poor when given the chance to score. He only had 22 touches, and didn’t have a single shot on target. He seemed to look exhausted, and like a striker who was on a long goaless run. He is needed it United want top 4. While United were terrible, Wolves still deserve plenty of credit. Their midfield pairing of Neves and Moutinho showed discipline and caused United problems. Their average position was very close, leaving no space for United to exploit. They will be a problem for the bigger sides, with the newcomers already picking up points against both Manchester teams. Let’s see if they can keep it up.

Serie A – Insigne and Roma scoring.

With teams in Italy having 2 games in a week, it could have been a problem for some of the bigger sides, with the players not given a rest for the weekend and the champions league. However this wasn’t the case, with two sides, Napoli and Roma, both picking up 3 points with plenty of goals. Let’s start with Napoli, who followed their 3-1 win over Torino, with a 3-0 win over Parma. While Napoli haven’t been nearly as impressive as their were under Sarri, they are still playing well and looking competitive for the champions league places. Their star performer this season could only be one guy, Lorenzo Insigne. The Italian has been one of the best players in Europe over the last 3 years, not only being a great creator, but also being able to score plenty of goals. He has been like Hazard has been under Sarri, but over a much longer period of time. He is truly a great talent. He already has 5 goals and an assist this season in only 7 games. He was Napoli’s key player in this game, scoring and assisting. He likes to cut inside and shoot when given the chance, which he showed with having 5 shots in this game. His average position in this game was very close to the striker, showing how often he likes to come central. I’m still so surprised he has not been picked by Barcelona or Real Madrid over the last few years. He has had a great week, and continues to show his class.

Roma were another who scored plenty in the week, with them beating Frosinone 4-0. This wasn’t a difficult game in the slightest, but Roma have had an inconsistent season to say the least. It was important to get a huge win, to keep the players confident and get them ready for the big Rome derby. The attacking players in this game were great, Stephan El Shaarawy. The Italian’s career hasn’t reached the heights we all expected while he was at AC Milan, but has still had a good career so far. He was excellent in this game. He had 3 shots on target, made 2 key passes, completed 2 dribbles and scored a goal. Some of their players were rested in this game, with Dzeko and Florenzi both starting on the bench. They still dominated the game, and go into their huge game against Lazio in confidence.

5 Players Who Have Started the Season Well

While there have only been around 5 games in each game played, there are already players who are in electric form. So let’s go through some players who have had good starts to the season. There will only be 1 player per Top 5 league, to add variety.

Ligue 1 – Dimitri Payet

Starting in France, Dimitri Payet has to be here. While Paris have won every game they’ve played (no surprise there), it does take a lot more to impress me, because of their superior talent. But Payet is by far good enough to play for them. He is has been the key player in a Marseille side that has been incredibly interesting to watch. Marseille over the last couple of seasons have transformed into a team that was Europe’s next giant to fall, into a side that are only on the way up. Marseille have mostly been making smart business. It was something I would not have expected, with most new owners trying to fix a team instantly, but in Marseille’s defense, they’re signings have been very good. Just last summer, Marseille signed Amavi on a permanent for only £9m and brought in Kevin Strootman to replace the outgoing Zambo Anguissa for the same price. They have a blend of solid players and players with a lot of skill. Payet is the lynch pin for the whole project. The ex West Ham midfielder has been a sensation since his return to Marseille, and has continued his form into this season. In the first 5 games, he has managed 3 goals and 2 assists. Payet has been one of the best creators in Europe since 2014 and has shown it, making an incredible 4.4 key passes per game this season. A huge issue for Payet himself over the last few years is the lack of talent in front of him. His incredible creative ability has been wasted with average talent like Germain, Mitroglou and Andy Carroll being in front of him over the years. It makes it even more impressive to see that Marseille have already scored 14 goals in 5, which is 2.8 goals a game. Payet is the reason why Marseille are so good going forward, and will continue to be vital in that area. If he can stay injury free (which has been a problem for him at times), then he could drive Marseille into the champions league positions.

Serie A – Allan

There haven’t been any outstanding performances from forwards so far this season. Ronaldo hasn’t hit the ground running as expected, Icardi is yet to score a league goal, Dybala’s game is getting sacrificed for Ronaldo’ benefit, and Immobile has only managed a goal so far. Looking away from the forwards, there has been one midfielder who has excelled so far this season, and that is Napoli midfielder Allan. The Brazilian has been one of the best ball recovery players, and also one of the best carries of the ball. He is excellent at quickly transitioning play and hitting an opposition quickly. This season has brought out some more qualities out of Allan. Napoli have looked weaker since the departure of Jorginho, because his replacement just hasn’t been performing for me. Don’t get me wrong, Zielinski is a good player, but I don’t he suits the role of controller of the game. He is a better attacking midfielder, who takes a lot of shots and helps the forward three. It just comparing Jorginho and Zielinski this season, the Pole has been dispossessed 1.6 times, while Jorginho only 0.8 times. I bring this up to show why Allan has performed so well. Allan has had to do even more work in middle of the park to compensate for the loss of his midfield partner. Allan is putting in nearly double the tackles in from last season, from 2.8 to 5.5, but because of his high tackles numbers, he is committing more fouls (with Zielinski losing the ball more it’s clear to see why). Even creatively he has improved, with his key passes doubling to 1.6. While Napoli have not shown their best this season, it’s good to see their most industrious midfielder still playing to his best.

Bundesliga – Ondrej Duda

It might be strange choice, but with Bayern being their usual boring perfect self, and Dortmund starting okay, it’s actually Hertha I’m most impressed with. They sit at second place with ten points, and after getting seven points out of Mönchengladbach, Wolfsburg and Schalke, they have to be given some credit. This form will not be consistent, but I’ll give credit where it is due, and the player that gets most of the credit will be Ondrej Duda. The Slovakian has scored 4 goals in 4 games, and there are a few things to be impressed by. The first seems to be his versatility. He has started already in central midfield and in the no 10. Being able to play in both positions does tell you a lot about the player, and the importance of him in the team. But what’s most impressive for the player must be that he has started the season in general. Duda’s time with Hertha has been nothing but injuries. He only managed 9 starts last season, after struggling with fitness. Seeing the player finally put a string of games together is great to see. After his brace against Schalke, he came out and said he doesn’t think he ever scored more than a single goal in a game before. It just goes to show how good he is playing at the moment. His performance against Schalke is the one I’m going to highlight. Lazaro said after the game that Duda’s game was to put pressure on Sebastian Rudy and to make sure he is ineffective, and to see that Rudy only made 18 passes with a bad 61.7% pass accuracy, he clearly did his work. He also scored both of the goals, with the first showing his how good he is at late runs into the box, and the second being a brilliant free kick. He was by far the best player on the pitch, and has been the best player in the Bundesliga so far.

Premier League – Eden Hazard

Not even a debate here, Hazard has been absolutely incredible since June (where he was robbed of the player of the tournament), and has carried that form on into the new season. He has already scored 5 in 6 games so far this season, which included his first hat trick in 4 years. Hazard is a player that just doesn’t get the credit he deserves. His ability to perform under so many different manager’s just shows his talent and flexibility. Players like Alli, Sterling and Zaha are great players in the system they play, but Hazard is able to perform under any manager. He is by far the best attacker in the league. The problem for Hazard is the managers he’s played under. Guys like Benitez, Mourinho and Conte are all defensively minded managers. He has never been able to express himself under an attack minded coach, until now. Sarri is playing him in the Insigne role (his job to create and score) and he could even be performing better than the Italian. Hazard no longer has the sole responsibility of driving the team up the pitch, because of Kante, Jorginho and Kovacic all having plenty of control in the midfield, meaning Hazard does not have to drop so deep. His numbers this season have went supernova. While his dribble numbers have dropped, it’s because he is staying further up the pitch now. He doesn’t have to drop so deep to receive the ball anymore. His shooting numbers have went up from 2.1 to 2.7. His passes per 90 have went from 32 to 57, his pass accuracy as went from 83% to 88%. His key passes have stayed roughly the same too. There is still a question mark on whether he can keep these numbers up, mainly because Sarri still needs time for system to be perfected. I am not doubting the player at all, but Sarri needs time and it could mean some inconsistent performances from Chelsea. It’ll be interesting to see how he progresses this season.

La Liga – Ousmane Dembele

While Bale and Benzema have been excellent at the start of the season, I’m going for Ousmane Dembele. The world cup winner has started the season brilliantly. He didn’t have the best debut season after his £135.5m from Borussia Dortmund. He suffered an injury that kept him out for 3 months, and then Valverde just wasn’t playing him. He stuck to a very safe 4-4-2, which didn’t give much of a chance to Dembele. But Valverde has changed it up this season, going to a more Barcelona style 4-3-3, with a front 3 of Messi, Suarez and Dembele. He has been excellent this season and is finally showing his worth after many doubted him. Dembele is chiefly a creator, not a scorer. But is doing both at the moment. He already has 3 goals in 5 games. His ability to beat a man and pick one of the other forwards is by far his best skill. His stats show just how well he’s been performing for the Champions this season. He has been making 2 key passes per 90, taking 2.8 shots, completing 50% of his dribbles, and completing 1.2 crosses per 90. He’s just had a great start, and for the sake of football Barcelona, let’s hope he keeps it up.

UEFA Champions League 18/19 Preview – Group B

Now onto the group of death. Let’s look through by far the toughest group this year.

Barcelona

The La Liga champions go into the tournament as one of the favourites for not only their group, but for the whole tournament. Barcelona have a very good squad, but there are some issues still there. Their midfield is still very old and their over reliance on Busquets is too obvious. That cannot keep happening when Busquets is now 30. He needs to be rested for these games now. Valverde is also a clear weakness. Barcelona won the league because of their tight defense (that seemed to vanish in the last couple of months of the season) and Messi just reminding the world why he is the best around. Valverde did not give their fans the entertaining style seen under Pep and Enrique. But Barcelona have a huge advantage this time around. Coutinho and Dembele will both be eligible for the Champions League, giving them much better options going forward. It’ll mean their best creators can flourish and help them beat teams, like Roma, who played very well defensively. They do have a good of going all the way. But it’s down to Valverde, and if he is able to approach the toucher games with less of a pragmatic way, but they will definitely top this group.

Inter Milan

A return of a European giant. Inter make their first appearance in the Champions League since 2012. They arrive with some very good elements in their team. They have one of the most consistent goal scorers in Europe in Mauro Icardi. They have very good depth in their centre backs in De Vrij, Miranda and Skriniar. They also shockingly signed Sime Vrsaljko on loan from Atletico Madrid. There are good components to a great team here, and will feel very unfortunate to draw the group they did. While I do like their team and Spaletti in charge, I don’t think they are ready to compete with Barcelona and Tottenham just yet. Inter are looking old, with Nainggolan, Miranda, D’Ambrosio, Valero, Candreva and Handanovic all over 30. While they could easily surprise me, the Europa League is where they will end up.

PSV Eindhoven

The Dutch champions come into this group as the weakest team, but still possess the ability to cause some real damage in this group. Unlike Spurs or Inter, PSV are unbeaten so far this season, even beating Willem II by 6 goals to 1. They have some real talented players in their side as well, most notably Hirving Lozano. The Mexican forward has been an instant hit since making his move to Europe, not only contributing to 25 goals in 29 appearances in the Eredivise, but also being a huge bright spark in a Mexico side who shocked the world by beating the world Champions Germany in their opening game in Russia. If PSV are to do anything, they need to make their home advantage count. Spurs’s away record against the top 6 in England is not great, which means that they can be beaten when out of their comfort zone. They have a chance too, but because of the quality of the other teams, they will finish rock bottom.

Tottenham Hotspur

Spurs are in a strange place right now. After beating Manchester United at Old Trafford, they then go and lose to Watford away from home. It shows how Spurs seem to constantly tire themselves out in their big games, and then fail to turn up against lesser teams. This is why they will finish 2nd in this group. While many can question their consistency. It is hard to argue that Spurs fail to turn up when they put their mind to it. They always get ready for the big games, as seen with their wins over Dortmund and Real Madrid last season. League form is irrelevant when discussing this competition, meaning Spurs will probably get through okay. Barcelona are beatable, Inter are still trying to fit in many players, and they have a more talented side than PSV. The only worry is Harry Kane. The golden boot winner has looked so poor at the start of the season. He should not be playing in league games if Spurs want the best out him in the group, because has looked off the pace since his injury back in March. It’ll be a second place finish for the London side.

Final Table

1. Barcelona

2. Tottenham

3. Inter Milan

4. PSV

Ronaldo Failing While Bale Flourishing? Top 5 Talking Points From The Top 5 Leagues

With the international break coming up, let’s look at how each of the leagues are looking going into this break.

Bundesliga – Wolfsburg Win Another. Dortmund Drop Points

As Bayern win another game, beating Stuttgart away from home, let’s look at another side, being Wolfsburg. They won 3-1 away from home against a young Bayer Leverkusen side. Besides winning away from home, this victory looks even better, because they also beat last year’s runners up, Schalke, by 2 goals to 1. Ever since the departure of Kevin De Bruyne, Wolfsburg have dropped from 2nd to 8th, and since 2016, have been fighting relegation. It’s just crazy to see a team that nearly knocked out Real Madrid, now struggle to stay in their own league. But this good start against tough opponents must be a positive for their fans. Besides Roussillon, a solid full back signed from Montpellier for only €5m. Their signings have not been great. Ginczek and Weghorst are both signed to add reinforcements upfront, but both did not score enough goals to justify singing them for a combined €25m. Wolfsburg were very good against Leverkusen. However it has to said that Leverkusen were not great in the slightest. Their back line of Weiser, Wendall, Tah and Dragovic only managed 6 tackles and interceptions between the 4 of them, while Wolfsburg’s back four managed 11. In an attacking sense, the away side were easily better. Weghorst, in particular, was very good for his side. The Dutchman managed 3 shots on target and ending his game with a goal. Wolfsburg’s front line in general worked extremely hard for this result. Leverkusen are a side who are difficult to play, because of their speed and the rawness in their side. Their forward line of Steffan, Weghorst and Brekalo managed 8 tackles between them. It was a result that was fought for and definitely earned.

Dortmund dropped their first points of the season, by drawing 0-0 with Hannover. They were not good on the day, and a loss of 2 points was definitely deserved. My worry with Dortmund playing under Favre is these games, where they need to blow teams away, but instead struggled. He continued playing the same midfield again, which is a mistake. He should have taken out Delaney, and brought in Gotze or Guerreiro, to add a bit of more drive or quality in that area. Favre also left his substitutions very late, not bringing on Sancho until the 78th minute. It makes you think why did he persist with Wolf, Philipp and Reus, when they only managed a single shot on target between them. If the forwards were having such an off day why not make a change. On a positive side, Dortmund still have Alcacer to come in, who will definitely help lead the line. On a defensive side, Dortmund were very solid. Piszczek was brilliant. He made 9 tackles and interceptions, while also winning 5 aerial duels. With Bayern already looking like carrying on where they left off, Dortmund cannot drop points against teams they should be beating, if they ever want to put pressure on the champions.

La Liga – Atletico’s Poor Start. Real Win Another

After Barcelona’s absolute demolition of newly promoted side Huesca, there’s look more into their rivals. Beginning with the red and white side of Madrid, they lost 2-0 to Celta Vigo away from home. It’s putting even more pressure on Atletico, since their big spending over the summer was thought to push them over the line. With their rivals winning all of their games so far, Atletico needed to continue winning games. They did not deserve anything from this game in the slightest. Rarely would I say that a Diego Simeone side was poor on both ends of the pitch, but it’s true. Celta bettered Atletico in almost every department. They had more shots on target, 4 compared to 0, completed more dribbles and had a better pass accuracy. While Atletico’s attackers deserve so much criticism for not managing a single shot on target, but one player in particular was a liability, and that being Steffan Stavic. The ex Fiorentina man was just awful in this game. Not only did he defend that second goal dreadfully, he also got himself sent off, by putting in a bad challenge on Pione Sisto, and a very high leg on Iago Aspas. Even looking at his stats, it was clear he offered nothing. He didn’t make a single successful tackle or interceptions, and only won a single header. Easily the worst individual performance all season. Atletico need recover, and with Arias possibly being included, it could be brighter for the next games.

While Atletico Madrid lost, their rivals won again. Madrid were excellent against Leganes. They have continued their winning run by securing a comfortable 4-1 win. As usual, Madrid dominated this game. They and 77% possession, had 17 shots, won more tackles, completed more dribbles. They deserved to win this game. Another game, another goal for Benzema and Bale. The duo have been brilliant so far this season. In 3 games, they’ve contributed 8 goals between them so far. They have both seriously stepped up since the departure of Ronaldo. I’ve already spoken enough about those two and Carvahal, so let’s at least put a spotlight on the best defender around, Sergio Ramos. I love Ramos as a player. He is the perfect leader to have in your team and can singlehandedly win you games and trophies. A commanding presence who would be brilliant in any side. He was brilliant in this game as usual. The Spaniard actually made the most touches in the game, a crazy 123. It says how important the defenders are to Lopategui, but does say how great Ramos is. He also had a 95% pass accuracy, only bettered in the game by pass master Toni Kroos. He is also taking penalties for Madrid now. If nothing else says how important he is, I don’t know what else there is.

Ligue 1 – Germain’s Late Winner. Lyon Lose Another

Marseille put on one great show on Sunday, beating Monaco 2-3, with Germain grabbing the late winner. It was a great game from end to end and it finally ended Garcia’s poor form against the top 3, with this being his first against them. While Marseille were good, there was one negative, and that being Adel Rami. The world cup winner had a real night to forget, with him being responsible for both goals. First with a poor back pass, and the other with a block that resulted in Falcao putting the ball in the back of the net. Excluding that one poor performance, the rest of Marseille were great. Payet was at his creative best, making 4 key passes and completed 2 dribbles. But one decision I can’t understand is starting Sarr and Sakai on the same side. Both play as full backs so starting them both gave a real lack of threat on that side. Sakai did perform well, making 6 tackles and interceptions. Sarr, the more advances player, did not perform as well. He didn’t manage a single shot on target and only made a single key pass. He was replaced in the second half Florian Thauvin, who really made a difference. In his half an hour, he scored and assisted for his team. Thauvin is such a talented player and probably should have moved in the summer. With Inter, Roma and Arsenal all looking for wide talent, it baffles me why he wasn’t even considered by these clubs. After Germain’s late winner, it puts more pressure on Monaco and benefits Marseille. Monaco have now lost two games out of four, and Marseille have just go their second win. It could be the driving force for Marseille, to push for that Champions League spot.

Speaking of losing, Lyon have lost another. They were beaten 0-1 at home to Patrick Viera’s Nice. The game was won by a Marcelo own goal. Lyon can call themselves unlucky here. They were better in most departments. They had more possession, and had 29 shots, bettering Nice’s 8. But Nice can call themselves lucky for one reason, being their goalkeeper Walter Benitez. The Argentine made a crazy 9 saves, which was every single shot on target that Lyon had. It was a heroic goalkeeper performance that will leave Lyon frustrated, that out of all days to face Nice, it’s the day that their goalkeeper decides to have an incredible game. Fekir was a constant threat. He had a frankly ridiculous 9 shots in the game. It just shows how unlucky Lyon were in this game. They can count themselves unlucky, but being this far behind Paris already is not good.

Premier League – Undefeated Watford. Arsenal firing

Watford have been a strange one so far. They came into the season as relegation favourites. With trigger happy owners, a manager who did not impress, and a group of players who are a mix of different manager’s views of how a team should be built. Yet here they are, one of only 3 teams that have won every game so far. Against Spurs, it’s easy to see why. Spurs were very poor on the day. Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen were not at the races at all. It’s a continuous issue with the lily-whites. They seem to turn up for one game, then seem to not show that performance against a weaker opposition. Spurs only had 2 shots on target. They seemed to fail to break Watford down throughout the game. Kane was especially poor. He only had 2 shots and not a single on target. The England forward usually has around 5 shots a game, ever since the start of the season he has just not looked the same. For Watford, they had a few stand out players. Jose Holebas was brilliant. The Greek International was a driving force throughout the game. He got 2 assists in the game and was so important in Watford winning the game. In a defensive sense, both Cathcart and Kabasale defending very well. They made a combined 26 clearances. When they didn’t defend clean, they sure did do the job. Watford have the ability to get far his season. My only issue is what happens if they face a team with more natural wingers. The Hornets seriously lack pace outwide so a good winger could do real damage. However they have been doing this well so let’s hope they keep it up.

Arsenal are another team that finally put in a good performance, beating newly promoted side Cardiff 3-2. This is only their second victory of the season. Emery has already won as many away games in 2018 as Wenger did, just the one. It was a very indifferent performance overall. The attacking side was great, with Arsenal outperforming their opponent in the final third. Both teams managed a high number of shots, but Arsenal had 11 on target, compared to Cardiff’s 4. On that basis it was clear Arsenal did deserve the victory. When looking at standout performers, Lacazette was by the best player on the pitch. He did everything for Arsenal going forward. He had 3 shots on target, made 3 key passes, and ended the game with a beautiful finish and an assist. It was performance he has been needing, since his starts have been lowering since Aubamayeng’s arrival. But the stats prove he should start more. He has bagged 8 goals in his last 9 starts, proving how he performs when given the chance. Another who performed well was Granit Xhaka. The midfielder gets constant criticism, and sometimes for good reason. He does lack agility and a defensive awareness. However he is still one of the best passers in the league, and made the third most final third passes last season. Many who criticise him do not know much about football to me. Arsenal fans constantly criticise Xhaka and Ramsey, yet never say a bad word about Wilshere, an average player at best. Xhaka was very good in this game. He made 3 key passes and had the most touches on the ball, a massive 120. His involvement and importance cannot be argued at his point. However defensively Arsenal were poor again. Emery has a lot of work to do and it will take a while until they look like a decent defensive unit. They leave space for set pieces and it is also full of average players. Sokratis is still a bad player, Mustafi is a terrible defender, and Monreal is 31 now. It will need a lot of work to fix it. But having Torreira and Guendouzi in front could help. They were troubled by an extremely predictable team which is never a good sign. While they great going forward, they still have a lot of work to do.

Serie A – Napoli Humiliated. Milan’s Big Win

Serie A was very eventful this week. Inter got their first big win, Juventus scraped a win against Parma, and the biggest of all, Sampdoria threw Napoli aside by beating them 3-0. It was a bad day for Carlos Ancelotti’s side, who lost his first game this season. What a way to lose it. Sampdoria just turned up against them. They had 3 shots on target and put all of them away. Napoli on the other hand had 18 shots and only put 4 on target. This could just be a bad day at the office for them, but the home side did definitely deserve the victory. The forward two of Quagliarella and Defrel were both great. Defrel in particular was a great partner for the Italian veteran. He only had 36 touches of the ball, but in those touches, he managed to score 2 in only 2 shots on target. A very clinical performance. A certain mention has to go to Quagliarella, who scored easily the goal of the season so far, with a tremendous back heel volley to seal the game. It wasn’t pretty for Napoli however. Simone Verdi in particular wasn’t great at all. He didn’t manage a single shot on target, and didn’t make a single key pass or a successful dribble. A real passenger throughout the game. However the substitutions were both very effective. Dries Mertens and Adam Ounas made a real difference when coming on. Mertens came on got 3 shots, which was the 3rd most for Napoli. It puzzles me why the Belgian forward isn’t starting more games. He has been a real big player for Napoli and after his late winner against Milan, I thought he would be getting more chances. But it isn’t meant to be so far. Adam Ounas is another who performed when coming on. The young Frenchman completed 5 dribbles, the joint most for the away side. He was only on the field for 45 minutes and came on for Verdi, and showed him what a forward should be doing. Napoli can call this a bad day at the office, but this kind of defeat cannot happen again.

Roma are another who were disappointing. They lost to AC Milan after Cutrone scored the late winner to make it 2-1 to the 3x champions league winners. Roma have been very disappointing so far. They were just able to beat Torino by a great finish from Dzeko. They had to fight from 3-0 down to draw to Atalanta, and now have lost their first game of the season. Di Francesco has not impressed me so far during his time in the capital. They have regressed since their great season under Spaletti. The signing of Malcolm might have been the difference, with the wide areas not being great. But they had enough time to find another option, there must have been another. With Inter, Napoli and now Roma all under performing, it has made Juventus’s season even easier. Milan, however, were very good in this game. They had 26 shots, they dominated the game and had 89% of a pass accuracy. Their first goal was a brilliant show of team play, and speaking of the goal, the scorer, Kessie, was great on the day. The young midfielder excelled. Not only did he score the first goal, he also had a brilliant 93% pass accuracy, 3 tackles and interceptions and scored his only shot on target. Kessie showed a lot of promise at Atalanta. His physical advantages at a young makes it much easier when playing at the top level. He also showed great technical ability, with his solid dribbling and his ability to get into the final third and help the attack. With Milan now having a majority of their players settled, it’s now time for Kessie to step up and deliver on that potential. Even after all of their signings, it’s their young academy players, Cutrone and Calabria. They both had a huge involvement in the match, with Cutrone bagging the winner, and Calabria putting in a man of the match performance. He put in the second most tackles and interceptions in the game (with 6), and completed the second most passes in the game. Milan might be a bit of a mess at the moment, but the future does look bright.

Lyon to WIN Ligue 1? – Top 5 Talking Points from The Top 5 Leagues

With the Bundesliga finally back, all leagues can finally be discussed. Not many big talking points this week, with the big teams winning, it makes everything a little predictable. But anyway, let’s go through the talking points.

Bundesliga – Kovac starts brightly. Dortmund Dominate.

The Bundesliga is easily one of the least competitive league in Europe. It’s been covered before but Bayern are just so far ahead of their competition. With their ability to hand pick the best talent in Germany (Goretzka, Sule, Gotze, Lewandowski all moved in the last 5 years). It makes their competition weaker, while making themselves stronger. This dominance is seen again when playing a very good Hoffenheim side, managed by young managerial sensation Julian Nagelsmann. Some sympathy has to be felt for the German, with two of his best attackers, Serge Gnabry and Sandro Wagner, both now at Bayern. Nagelsmann sets up his team in a very unique way, with a lot of emphasis on pressing from the front overloading the midfield. The problem with this, which Bayern exploited, is it leaves a lot of space in the wide areas. Throughout their 3-1 victory, Ribery and Coman ( who were excellent in the first half) constantly caused their opposing full backs plenty of problems. They were fouled a combined 7 times in the whole game, just showing how the opposition just couldn’t deal with the French wingers. Things did change a lot in the second half however. Zuber came on for Hoffenheim, and suddenly looked so much more threatening. They attacked with real desire and have Bayern, and especially Javi Martinez, a lot of problems. However the talking point of this game will be the VAR decisions. The referee in this game wasn’t great. He gave Muller a yellow card for a very soft foul and it seemed he lacked any control on the game. Bayern’s last two goals had involvements of VAR, where Bayern had to retake a penalty because of an offside call. It was a game that will show a comfortable win for Bayern, but watching the game will show that Hoffenheim did have their chances, and Bayern showed some real fragility.

Dortmund were another team that started very well. They beat RB Leipzig 4-1 at home, to start Favre’s reign on a positive note. He played the team that was expected to start, with new signings Thomas Delaney and Axel Witzel starting midfield, alongside Dahoud. What was so good about this line up was he defensive partnership, with Akanji and Diallo starting for Dortmund. Both of these players have high ceilings and will need game time together, if their possible partnership is to develop. Things didn’t start off so well however, with Dortmund just falling asleep for the first couple of minutes. Witzel failed to clear the ball, and Akanji didn’t win the header, which lead to Augustin scoring the first goal. However the only way was up for the home side, with Reus, Dahoud and Witzel all scoring. There was some players were seriously impressive for Dortmund. Abdou Diallo in particular was very good on the ball. He ended the game with 67 passes, which was the second highest behind Witzel, and had a 96.3% pass accuracy. He is already looking like the ideal modern centre back. On the offensive side of the game, Marco Reus was as good as he usually is. The German international ended the game with a goal and 3 key passes. While many will say injuries have ruined his career, it cannot be denied that whenever he doesn’t play, he makes a huge difference. I’m not a huge fan of their midfield however. Dortmund are a team that usually dominate games, and having a midfield of Witzel and Delaney does not scream possession style. While Witzel did complete the most passes for Dortmund, he get a single key pass and made 3 unsuccessful long balls, showing how the former Zenit midfielder does not offer much creativity from deep. The midfield does add a lot of steel however, and that can always come in handy in games against the likes of Bayern, who will have more of the ball. A good start for Dortmund, and one they will be hoping to build on.

Ligue 1 – Lyon Win in Style, Monaco Falling Behind

With Paris usually being the main talking point from France, let’s focus on the pack behind them, and the two teams that are the closest in competing with the champions.

Lyon are a team that are just so exciting to watch. Over the last couple of years, they have been selling their most talented players, and replacing them very effectively. Over the last 2 seasons, they have sold Tolisso, Umtiti, Lacazette and Gonalons, and have ended up replacing them perfectly. Ndombele signed permanently over the summer, to complete an already young and prosperous midfield containing Aouar and Tousart. Mariano arrived from Madrid for €10m and Depay has been a sensation since signing from Manchester United. They haven’t started their new season off in perfect form however, with the French club losing their second game against Stade Reims. Lyon went back to winning ways against Strasbourg, with the home side winning 2-0, with a classy finish from Bertrand Traore and a brilliant free kick from Memphis sealing the victory. Traore was by the most impressive player. He was another signing brought in for a small amount of money, and has given Lyon a very good option on that right side. The former Chelsea man had a very good game against Strasbourg, making 2 key passes, completing 2 dribbles and having 5 shots on target. He was a clear influence for Lyon. Another player who stood out for the side in question was Rafael. Surprisingly, the ex Manchester United right back was very solid throughout the game. He won 5 aerial duels, and won 6 tackles and interceptions. A very solid showing from the Brazilian. Could Lyon go all the way? Lyon seem to be PSG’s closest challengers, with an incredibly strong attack and young, dynamic midfield. They play a style that is so attractive on the eye that rooting for them what a purist of the game would do. But their main goal will be champions league first. There are only 3 spots available in France, and with Marseille and Monaco always remaining the threat, it will be important to guarantee that spot, to be able to attract players in the future, and to see their bright and young side to play in Europe’s elite competition.

Speaking of Monaco, they lost their first game of the season against Bordeaux. It was a very open game however, with Monaco having 15 shots, and Bordeaux having 14. Bordeaux, in an attacking sense, were definitely deserving of the win. Their wingers, François Kamano and Samuel Kalu, were excellent. They caused both Traore and Barreca so many problems throughout the game. Many questions were asked of Bordeaux if their wide talent would be able to step up after losing Malcolm to Barcelona, and against Monaco they proved they can cope without him. The pair took 10 of Bordeaux’s 14 shots, just showing the incredible attacking influence they had on the home side. Kamano in particular was very good. He had 3 shots on target and completed 3 of his dribbles. His second goal was a brilliant team move, that ripped Monaco apart. As for the away side, this can be seen as simply a bad day at the office. They still dominated the game and outshot their opponent. A mistake from Jemerson and a brilliant move from Bordeaux was why they dropped points. They still had some bright spots however. Their second highest scorer last season, Rony Lopes, was still very good. The Portuguese winger had 3 shots on target and made 2 key passes. The young Italian Pietro Pellegri scored the equaliser. He made an excellent impact from the bench and his finish was a good strike. Let’s hope Monaco can recover from this result and return to winning ways. As for Bordeaux, this was their first win of the season, so it’s important that Kamano and Kalu continue this into the next game.

La Liga – Gareth Bale in Great Form. Barcelona Saved by VAR

With La Liga looking very interesting already, let’s begin with Real Madrid. Madrid have started life under Julen Lopategui with another win, beating Girona away from home 4-1. It has been covered before that Madrid weren’t exactly exciting in the transfer window. They failed to replace Cristiano Ronaldo with another exciting name. They were constantly linked to Eden Hazard, Rodrigo and Edinson Cavani to replace the gaping hole left by the now Juventus forward. However they decided to not replace him, and instead keep faith in the players currently at the club. It would involve both Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema seriously stepping up. Bale missed a lot of the season due to injury, and Benzema did a lot of hard yards for Ronaldo, so he was able to have the freedom of the box. Both would have to contribute massively in attack. So far they are doing that. Bale has now scored in 6 consecutive games for Madrid in all competitions. It is so important that he remains injury free and that Lopategui takes extreme care of him. Both Bale and Benzema have scored in both games, showing early signs of being able to carry the attack. However it’s in the champions league where Madrid will need these players to seriously need to step up. The main reason why Madrid even won the Champions league for a 3rd time was because of Ronaldo’s 15 goals (a goal every 78 minutes). Madrid will always win these type of games, because of their excellent quality in all areas of the pitch. Bale was by the best the player on the pitch. The Welshman was at his best against Girona, giving his excellent explosiveness on the wing and causing a huge threat. He had 2 shots on target, made 3 key passes and completed 3 dribbles. One big positive without Ronaldo is it does take away the style they had with him the side. They mainly focused on only giving him chances, which is why he was averaging over 5 shots a game. It is similar to how Spurs play, with their main strategy being creating as many chances for Kane as possible. Having a 4-2-3-1, with Isco in the 10, Bale and Asensio as the wingers, and Benzema leading the line is a more balanced side. We will just have to wait for the first huge test for them, to see if this squad is able to compete without their top goal scorer last season.

Like their rivals, Barcelona have started this season very well, with a win against newly promoted side Real Valladolid. However it wasn’t exactly a comfortable win for the champions, with them only being able to beat their opponent by a single goal. While in an attacking sense, Barcelona definitely should have been better. Suarez is a player who’s decline is looking more and more obvious by the season. This isn’t his fault at all. The ex Liverpool forward is now 32. He is now longer in his prime years and is now reaching a point where he is unable to play as many games as he used to. He only had a single shot on target. For a team as dominant in possession as Barcelona, it just isn’t good enough. Messi was another who wasn’t at his best in this game. While did complete 4 dribbles, he didn’t have a single shot on target. This was a game where Barcelona really struggled. If it wasn’t for a bit of magic from Dembele, this would be a huge hit for them. On a more positive note, their defense was excellent. This is the first time in a while where it can be said that Barcelona are extremely good defensively. They play in a more pragmatic system, which brings the best out of their defenders. Sergi Roberto in particular was extremely influential in all areas of the pitch. He had 108 touches, the most for the away side, and made 6 tackles and interceptions, the highest in the game. Barcelona can thank VAR for their victory. In the late stages of the game, Keko managed to score the equaliser. The whole side was celebrating, until the referee used to VAR and noticed he was offside. While it does push the agenda of the officials favouritism towards Barca, it was the correct. Last season there would be a high chance that the referee would not have ruled that offside, and it would have been counted. Barcelona can call themselves lucky in this tie, and need to improve for their next fixture.

Premier League – Man City Drop Points. Spurs Win at Old Trafford

The Premier League is already full of talking points, but the top of the table is where all the interest is at the moment. With Liverpool and Chelsea picking up another win, it was important for Man City and Spurs to continue in their winning ways. Let’s start with City, who dropped points against a very resilient Wolves side. While many, including myself, will give a lot of credit to this Wolves side, for showing so much quality against a team that were only beaten twice last season, City were not at their best. While still dominated the game and had a brilliant 90% pass accuracy, they just didn’t threaten Wolves enough. While they did spend very well, they are still a newly promoted team and should not be dropping points against them. Kevin De Bruyne is a player who they definitely missed in this game. His ability to find a weakness against these teams that sit in a low block was key in their century season. While Gundogan and Silva are fine players, both do not possess his incredible ability of picking out a pass. Bernardo Silva and Sterling were also not very effective. They both only managed 3 shots between them. This is not to discredit Wolves in any sense however. City play such a high line, because it lets them dominate games and keep possession effectively. However this can be beaten if the ball is moved quickly to players with real pace. Diogo Jota was especially effective in this aspect. Him and Costa were both hitting City with real drive. However if they both were better in front of goal, it could have been more than a draw. The blue side of Manchester set such a high standard last season, that dropping points against lower teams is a huge disappointment. Pep will figure a way to break these kind of teams down, so in time City will be back to their usual selves.

Speaking of Manchester, the red side lost at home to Spurs for the first time since 2012. This has now cemented this season as their worst start since the first premier league season. However this wasn’t near as bad as Brighton. United in that game looked to have no ideas, no desire and a complete lack of urgency. However that first half against Spurs was a real bright spark. United overloaded the midfield, instead of playing their usual inside forwards (who are very ineffective). Fred was making great runs into the box and was causing the spurs back line some real issues. Like the rest of this start, Luke Shaw has been another bright spot. Throughout the game, he was pushing high up the pitch and giving some width, when no one else was. However it will be the second half that everyone remembers. Thanks to some very basic mistakes from the usual United culprits, 3 goals were conceded, giving Spurs their biggest victory at Old Trafford in 46 years. I have blamed Mourinho for many of United’s mistakes on the pitch for the last year, however this time he is not at fault for everything. With Bailly and Lindelof having such appalling games, changes had to be made. But the players that he had to bring in, Jones and Smalling, are just as bad. In Smalling’s defense, he was easily the better out of the two. Until that 3rd goal, he seems assured and confident in the back. It was his partner, Phil Jones, who was just atrocious. It was easily his worst performance in a United shirt for me. He almost gave away a penalty (if the referee saw his clear foul), he let Harry Kane have that header for the first goal, and was caught in no man’s land for the second goal, stuck ball watching while Eriksen ran ahead of him. And for the third goal, Smalling did what usually does. He has a pretty fine game, up until one moment where he just makes the worst blunder, diving in against Moura when he should have tried to slow him down. Mourinho is stuck with a defense full of average, so being forced to play so defensively seems to be only the way to play now. However I still think Mourinho can do better than this. He’s had these players for 2 years, so how he has been unable to set up any sort of defensive structure, and just keep relying on De Gea to save his side is just a terrible plan. Spurs, on the other hand, were excellent. Pochettino changed his system multiple times in the game. First to move Lucas Moura as a striking partner to Harry Kane, which helped press United’s back three more effectively. And then pushed Eriksen further forward, while moving Dembele to a wider position, so United’s passing lanes were completely blocked, making pressing the backline even easier. Spurs now play Watford, who are surprisingly one of only 4 teams to win all of their opening games so far. Spurs have always had the problem of continuing great performances against bigger onto the smaller teams, where that winning edge always comes in handy. Let’s see if they continue and really challenge for the league.

Serie A – Napoli Bounce Back. Roma’s Dream Comeback

It can always be hard to discuss Juventus all the time, because there isn’t much to add. They have been this consistent for nearly a decade now. Instead let’s focus on 2 of their closest rivals, Napoli and Roma. Last week we discussed Inter dropping points, so let’s move on to the other rivals. First let’s start with Napoli, who recovered from 2-0 down to beat AC Milan 3-2. It was an excellent comeback, that shows Napoli still play in such a purist way, even without Maurizio Sarri in charge. It was deserved victory for the home side, with them having more possession and more shots. When talking about outstanding performers in the game, no one else deserves more credit than Allan. The Brazilian has been one of the best midfielders in Serie A in the last couple of seasons, and this game he showed why. He made a ridiculous 4 key passes in this game, showing how much of threat he was going forward. He had an excellent 91% pass accuracy as well, which shows he is effective in dominating games. He also topped the match in tackles, putting in a monsterous 6. Allan is just a perfect all round midfielder, and is adapting his game very well under Ancelotti. Milan on the other hand should feel very disappointed. Being two goals up and allowing Napoli to come back into the game is not good. They face a very average Roma side next, so let’s see if they can continue.

And finally, Roma completed a very good comeback against a fun Atalanta side, coming back to draw 3-3. Roma have been a very inconsistent side under Di Francesco. They went from 2nd to 3rd last season, and scored less goals in the process. That could be explained by Nainggolan’s form not being as good as that final Spaletti season, and losing Mohammed Salah to Liverpool was a huge miss. I haven’t been a fan of Monchi’s work so far at the Stadio Olympico. They have been taking many risks so far on the likes of Under, Pellegrini, Karsdorp and Olsen. While I also like N’Zonzi, they already have an overload in that position and I’m not sure if that’s what they needed. Talking about the game, I thought Dzeko was great as usual. The Bosnian has been a real underrated forward in the last few years, being a great forward for Roma and so reliable. He was brilliant in this game too. He had 3 shots on goal, made 2 key passes and won 8 aerial duels, the highest in the game. While he is aging, he plays in a way that lets him keep his best assets as he ages. He doesn’t rely on pace or agility, and instead his strength and height. On an Atalanta side, Emiliano Rigoni was excellent in this game. The Argentine scored 2 of the away side’s goals, with both being excellent finishes. He completed 2 dribbles, made 2 key passes and scored both of his shots on target. Atalanta have such a good side. With Gomes still showing excellent quality, they still have a very fun side, with an academy that has produced some of the biggest stars in Italy, with Caldara, Kessie, Gagliardini and Andrea Conti all earning big moves after their time for the club. Roma will struggle this season, and I’m unsure if Di Francesco is the man to move them forward.

Top 5 Worst Transfers of the Summer – Malcolm, Bonucci

After doing the best transfers of the window, let’s quickly go through some signings that are on the other end of the spectrum. These are the top 5 Worst signings from this summer’s window.

5. Malcolm – Barcelona

This might be a controversial pick, but this signing just doesn’t make much sense to me at all, for both player and club. I like Malcolm. He is a player who has an incredible left foot on him, from distance and in the box. While he did have a good season for a struggling Bordeaux, it didn’t seem enough for Barcelona to spend nearly £40m on. My problem with the transfer is that he was close to signing for Roma, which would have made so much more sense. Ever since the loss of Salah, Roma have been struggling for goals from around the pitch since the departure of Salah and after Nainggolan’s goals dried up last season (he was still very good). Malcolm would have definitely helped them in this department. He would have given them an extra attacking threat, and put less pressure on Edin Dzeko. It would have been so perfect to have a front three of Kluivert, Dzeko and Malcolm. However that is not the reality of the situation. I can understand that joining Barcelona is an opportunity of a life a lifetime, but it would be better to join a club of their prestige when a guarantee of starting is there. Valverde seems eager to play a 4-3-3, to get the best out of the players in his possession, and to give better protection to Sergio Busquets. The problem is where does Malcolm start in this forward 3? Messi is a guarantee to start on that right side, and Dembele will play on the left, and is also able to play on the right. Malcolm could have seen what happened to the likes of Denis Suarez and Lucas Digne. Two players who chose Barcelona when they were not at that level yet. His chances will come very short, but that is his choice.

4. Leonardo Bonucci – Juventus

Last summer, I praised the acquisition of Leonardo Bonucci to AC Milan. They were buying the best centre back in Europe for only €30m and it just seemed like a great bit of business. However a year on, it was not. Talking about this signing means going into the whole deal between the two clubs. It was agreed that Higuain would join Milan on loan for €17m with an obligation to buy for €31m. Matteo Caldara also joined Milan as part of the deal, with Bonucci joining Juventus. The deal itself addresses the problem. Juventus should have never given these players away. Higuain’s numbers have been dropping since his arrival in Turin, so keeping him as Ronaldo’s number two would have worked, to give Ronaldo the required rest for the crucial games. Selling Caldara just makes no sense. The young Italian has looked good for Atalanta over his two year loan spell. He was ready to become at least a squad player for The Old Lady. Bonucci, like Malcolm, is a bad signing not exactly based on the player’s ability, but it has to do with the circumstances surrounding the move. Juventus have weakened areas in their squad to have him back, and it has not helped the aging squad.

3. Sokratis Papastathopoulos

It is not exactly a controversial opinion to say that Arsenal’s squad is a pure mess. While the signings of Torreira and Guendouzi do address the gaping hole in midfield, and Lichteiner will give competition to a very stagnant Hector Bellerin, but it is the other defensive signings I have a problem with. Bernd Leno is a very horrible signing. He made the second most defensive errors last season, but because of how useless Cech is, he will be an improvement. Sokratis on the other hand just isn’t a good move. I just do not understand this move at all. Sokratis is an okay distributor, but he is more of a destroyer than a sweeper. Arsenal needed a more intelligent defender, that isn’t so positionally poor. In the first two games, Sokratis has been one of Arsenal’s worse performers for an already poor Arsenal team. Having a back two of Mustafi and Sokratis is asking for them to get caught out over an over again. Borussia Dortmund were very poor last season in a defensive sense, which explains why they signed young promising defender Abdou Diallo. Sokratis was a huge fault for that poor defense. Arsenal bringing in a guy who is now 30 to fix a defense that needed a more intelligent player just doesn’t make sense, and the worst part is he is still one of their better defenders.

2 & 1 – Thomas Delaney and Axel Witzel – Borussia Dortmund

While it could be cheating, putting two players as joint first and second,
I have been unable to make up my mind on which out of these is a worse signing. Lucian Favre is an appointment I am not exactly a fan of. While has previous experience in the league, doing a fine job at Munchengladbach, his time at Nice did not end so well, with the club overachieving in their first season by finishing 3rd, to then finishing 8th. Many of the players in that team were performing well over their potential, with the likes of Dante, Balotelli, Seri and Le Marchand all overachieving that season. The problem with Favre is the style of play he chooses is not exactly the most attractive, which can make him a very a hard manager to sit through. Dortmund have not had the best of windows. They didn’t properly address their striker problem, and the signings themselves aren’t great. While I like Diallo and Hakimi on loan, I think their midfield signings of Delaney and Witzel are both atrocious. Both are very functional players, that do not excel in any department. Delaney’s defensive numbers are very decent and he did win 3.7 aerial duels a game last season, but the problem with the Danish international is that he is very poor on the ball. Since Tuchel’s arrival, Dortmund have been playing midfielders with very good technical ability, surrounded by players who have a lot of energy and are effective in pressing and assisting in attack. His technical players in the past have been the likes of Gundogan, Dahoud and Weigl, all players with an excellent ability on the ball. However with the departure of Castro and Gundogan over the years, and both Weigl and Dahoud not having the best of seasons last season, it could have been a position that needed strengthening. But they have went the wrong way in signing these players. Favre could have put his faith in the midfielders he currently has. He has spent €40m on two players with such limited ability, which could hinder the currently young talent that the club possesses. One could say that they are only there maybe to partner one of Dahoud or Weigl, but this is Favre. He will play Witzel and Delaney together because of their discipline and aggression. I think Dortmund are better than these players, and they should not be wasting their relatively low resources on quick fix options, and should instead be going for players with a high technical ability.

5 Talking Points From The Top Five Leagues – 20/08/18

With the season underway, I have decided to start discussing the main talking points from each of the top 5 leagues, every week. With football back in our lives, we can start watching all football that takes place around the continent. So let’s begin

Bundesliga – ?

The season has not began yet so there isn’t really anything to say here, so let’s wait till next week.

Serie A – Ronaldo Debut and Inter Fall Behind

The Serie A has went from a league that everyone seemed to not care about, to a league that everyone is starting to take interest in. This actually didn’t begin with the Ronaldo transfer (it did help however) but it began with Napoli. Last season it was notable for actually having a title race. Most other leagues were decided by February, making the leagues uneventful. But Napoli famously beat Juventus away from home at the 90th minute. It kept the title race open, until Juventus did their usual thing and won the title again. It kept the league interesting and began to make it a memorable household name.

Juventus began their season against Chievo, a team that finished comfortably mid table, meaning Juventus should usually win this game. However they made hard work of it. The Old Lady did dominate the game, with the away side having 28 attempts on goal. They created a lot of good shots, but the Chievo goalkeeper, Steffan Sorrentino, was having a great game. Ronaldo had his usual productive game, with the Balon d’Or winner having 9 shots in the game, his incredibly high shot amount. While he didn’t score, he showed signs of things to come. Juventus have a team of winners, players who know exactly how to win games, and league titles. What helped was Inter’s poor start.

Inter had a very good summer. They added genuine quality in the likes of Keita Balde, Nainggolan and Keita Balde. While adding good league experience in Asamoah and De Vrij. They bought really well and cemented themselves as Juventus’s possible challengers for the throne. Challenging Juventus in Italy is an extremely difficult task. To beat Juventus, it means winning almost every game, while also hoping you don’t drop points yourself. However losing against a mid table side is not the way you want to start your title challenge. Inter began their season with a 1-0 defeat against Sassuolo. Sassuolo have beaten Inter 6 times in their last 7 games. It is starting to look very bad for Inter whenever they play Sassuolo. The game even showed this. It was a relatively close game for most of it, with both Sassuolo and Inter having chances in the game. However the winning goal was decided earlier on in the game, with Miranda foolishly taking down De Francesco to win the penalty, which was despatched by Berardi. Inter had 70 minutes to get back into this game, yet the best chance they had was a couple of chances from Icardi. Only Martinez, De Vrij and Asamoah started the game out of their two signings, and it was definitely two ends of the spectrum. Asamoah had a solid game, with the Ghanaian completing 2 dribbles and making 3 key passes. Martinez, however, was anonymous throughout the game, with the youngster failing to have a shot on target. The only positive for Inter is they still have more players left to come back, and usually when Icardi starts scoring, then Inter start performing.

Ligue 1 – Mbappe stars. Others do not

Another league where the champions are usually much ahead of their competition, PSG already look like continuing their dominance in France. The champions looked in trouble are going 1-0 against Guingamp, but thanks to a well taken penalty from Neymar, they were back in the game. However it wasn’t Neymar taking the headlines for this game, instead it was young French superstar Kylian Mbappe. The world cup winner came on for Timothy Weah, and made a big impact. He scored a brace to win the game for Paris, with both goals highlighting his incredible finishing in front of goal. Tuchel has started life in Paris well, with this his second win on the bounce. He also seems to be wanted to play younger players, with Weah, Dagba and Bernede all starting the game. Tuchel has previously complained that his full backs aren’t at the level he wishes them to be at, so finding alternatives could be the answer for him. However what made this victory even more satisfying was their closest rivals dropping points. Both Marseille and Lyon lost their games against Nimes and Reims respectively, and Monaco had to settle for a draw against a poor Lille side. With the strength that PSG have, the last thing their rivals could do is drop points this early on in the season. This will help give PSG the advantage they always during the season.

Premier League – Liverpool Win Dirty. United showing their weakness

It has been covered throughout the summer that Liverpool could be the only real challengers for Manchester City. The Reds made some excellent signings in Naby Keita, Fabinho and Alisson, all who are first team addition to strengthen an already strong eleven. Their competition however, are the record beating Manchester City side that eased to 100 points last season, and just beat Huddersfield 6-1, showing that they can demolish teams even without Kevin De Bruyne. Liverpool also beat a weaker side, but in a much more impressive way. They beat a Crystal Palace side that are very difficult to beat, with exciting full backs, a solid base in midfield and a brilliant dribbler in Zaha. Liverpool were outclassed for most of the game, but they remained resilient and kept their narrow lead, until Wan Bissaka’s sending off, a player who definitely has a positive future. Liverpool secured the win, and hopefully winning in this very dirty way could be an asset in those tough away games they struggled with last season.

Speaking of tough away games, United were completely outclassed by a good Brighton side. United dominated the game, but the problem was they didn’t use that domination in an effective way. The attackers were very poor, with both Mata and Martial both anonymous throughout their time on the pitch. Paul Pogba did create 2 chances, but lost the ball 23 times, just showing how he was not having a good game in the slightest. United looked much better as soon as Fellaini came on, but that is the problem. With all the brilliant attackers united possess, why is Fellaini, a player with limited ability, always relied upon? It just seems to push the view that Mourinho does not know how to set up a team in an attacking sense, and in this game, in a defensive sense. Bailly, Lindelof and Young were all very poor. They all seemed out of their depth when going against an aging striker in Glen Murray and average wingers in Knockheart and Marsh. United are a team incredibly low on confidence, and at any moment, could spell the end of Jose Mourinho.

La Liga – Barca Continue. Atletico Drop Points

The title race this season in La Liga looks to be very heated this season. Atletico looked to have the best squad they have had since their title win. Barcelona, while weak in midfield, still have an incredible forward line and goalkeeper. Madrid are definitely weaker, but with a new manager, an inform Gareth Bale, it could be a season where the team seem motivated under a new regime. While both Madrid and Barca comfortably won against Getafe and Alaves respectively, Atletico dropped points against a good Valencia side. An away game against Valencia is a hard one to win, with Marcelino being an expert at organising his team and having quality, lively players in the attack with Rodrigo and Santi Mina being constant threats for the red and white. Rodrigo in particular was brilliant. He had three shots in the game, with the last leading to the goal. On the other side, Costa and Correa were very good. Costa won 3 aerial duels in the game, the joint most in the match, and played do his usual strengths of completely causing the defenders nightmares throughout. Correa was another who really showed why he should have a role in this team, even with the arrivals of Lemar and Gelson Martins. However it was the defensive side of the game where Atletico were not great. A sentence that is never usually uttered by anyone. They couldn’t deal with Rodrigo and Mina at all. It seemed Juanfran was starting to show his weaknesses as he has aged, and explains why Arias was brought in. Diego Godin, however, was at fault for the goal, making his first defensive mistake in 6 years. A point against Valencia is fine, but it was a game they should have won and will feel hard done by. However defensive mistakes by Godin will not happen again. Barca and Real will drop points, so Atletico just have to wait and pounce.